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Transforming Participate into an Agile product company — and boosting active users 43%

The brief

“It felt like a complete impossibility, but with the leadership of TXI, we’ve effected tremendous change throughout the organization and on this product itself.”

Lauren Hanford, Head of User Experience Design at Participate

Participate came to us in early 2017 looking for help with UX. But that was just the start.

VIF, a professional development organization for teachers, had just acquired Participate, a chat product it needed to connect educators and help them share resources. VIF rebranded, adopting the Participate name and essentially becoming a software product company overnight. Now they needed to learn how to operate like one.

When we came on board, the product was muddled, new feature requests felt arbitrary and developers were hopelessly overworked. By doing lean user research, running a Product Strategy Workshop and instituting Agile design and development to get it all built, we were able to transform both the organization and the product.

The challenge

Making the shift to a user-centered product company

In a product company, how you make products influences and is influenced by how the rest of the company operates. Participate was still operating under a traditional organization structure, with management dictating product decisions based on what they thought was best.

We went down to Participate’s headquarters for a three-day UX process audit. After meeting with the product team, the organizational pain points were immediately clear. It wasn’t a lack of talent stopping Participate from creating an awesome product. It was a lack of communication, clear goal-setting and product management.

And then there was the number one issue: a lack of user research. Customer-centric products are only successful when customer needs directly lead the design, yet features were coming from salespeople and management. The result was an ineffective platform that struggled with user acquisition and engagement. Fixing that was our first hurdle.

  • Lead with user research To drive innovation and prioritize new features, you should always start with your users. Letting internal stakeholders drive all decision-making without input from users can lead to users abandoning your product.

  • Establish a baseline of shared knowledge To build the best products, you need tech, design and business all working together. Participate’s management team was struggling to articulate what the business goals were. Ultimately, we can’t prioritize user needs without knowing their potential ROI.

  • Drive innovation with organizational change Great products aren’t made in isolation. They require an organization that’s structured top-to-bottom for great product making. When we came to Participate, it wasn’t a design-first company, and no one knew how to work in Agile.

  • Update systems to be more agile Take deployment. Developers were merging all of their work into a single deployment before sending it to the quality assurance team. If there were issues with feature A, it would hold up the release of features B and C, which were all tied together.

The solution

  • Re-envision the product through the user research
  • Institute Agile methodologies throughout the organization
  • Utilize a Product Strategy Workshop to align stakeholders around product priorities
  • Create better deployment practices in development to unblock new features

Table XI brought lean startup and agile development principles along with a lot of discipline for executing them.

Conrad Caplin, CEO of Pronto

The outcome

Over the course of seven Agile sprints, we worked with the team to rethink how one of their most important features, chat, should work, starting with the user needs that had the highest potential return for the business. Our goal was to create trust with educators and build an environment that would entice them off of Twitter and onto our platform.

The effect we had on Participate’s product is clear. The dashboard we helped them create with Google Analytics and Mixpanel shows the phenomenal improvement they’ve made since adopting Agile and focusing product development on user needs.

After an initial bump in user signups of 185 percent, Participate continues to add new users at a steady and growing clip, with a 58 percent sustained increase. They’re also seeing far more engagement, with a 20 percent increase in meaningful interactions with the redesigned chat feature and a 43 percent increase in monthly active users.

43%

The increase in monthly active users after our collaboration

45%

Increase in team satisfaction after implementing Agile and user-centered approach

19%

Increase in confidence that the Participate was building as a cohesive team

The results

Transformation that sticks

Learning to operate as a user-centered product company can come with some growing pains, but with organizational buy-in at all levels, it can be transformational. We kept in touch with Participate, and the best part is seeing the change in how the product leads operate. The product team is regularly meeting with the CEO to communicate user feedback and research, and all product features are now filtered through that lens.

The new features they’re working on show how transformative user-centered design can be. When something is a well-thought-out response to a user need, it can’t help but feel awesome. Participate is now just a delightful product overall. The impact was immediately visible.

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